Friday, April 16, 2010

Calling All Captains

With the announcement of Lee Reed as Georgetown's new athletic director, there are probably as many questions from the rank and file Hoya fan as any newcomer to the process. But when Wednesday's press conference opened the floor to questions at Riggs Library, only two questions were proferred.

Liz Clarke of the Washington Post asked about the oft-discussed but never funded training/practice facility. Reed's response was equal parts the response of a newcomer and one who wisely knows this issue has traction farther up the hill.

"Obviously a facility that will enhance practice opportunities for our student-athletes is something that is of importance," said Reed . " I need to get here and understand all that has gone on until this point to see where the plan is. I’ve heard about it. I’m excited about it, but there are so many other things that the university has that have put our coaches and student-athletes in a great place. That will be another piece, and that will be a critical piece. I’ll work with our senior management team and the fundraisers in our athletics program and advancement to move forward on raising the money that is necessary to build that facility. So yes, it is critical to us. I’m part of the team. I’m here to join the team and do what I can to bring the resources to our student-athletes and our coaches, as it relates to facilities and other areas."

Put another way, the ball's not in his court.

The second question came from Kevin Wessel of The HOYA, and among all the issues of interest to students today, from the shoddy condition of Kehoe Field to the growth of women's sports to better transportation to Verizon Center, his question was on a topic of no small frustration among the student body--the condition of the football program.

Reed's response did not sound like he was passing the buck upstairs.

"I’m aware of where the [Georgetown] football program is. I can’t wait to sit down with the coaching staff to kind of see where they are. I know it’s important to this community, so we’ll work with our coaching staff and we’ll work with the staff in place now to see what’s going on with the program."

One of the undercurrents to the 2010 off-season is the role of the athletic director in what is an uncomfortable topic: a 5-38 record since 2006. Other than Dartmouth and Indiana State, it's practically at the bottom of Division I. The coaching staff knows it is in a vulnerable place after last season, and it's clear football was a topic of discussion at Reed's interviews.

But Wessel's question only touched on a growing sense of anger by students that the program is in the ditch. No one walks in the door at Georgetown expecting to play Syracuse and West Virginia on a September afternoon, but a non-competitive program in an unfinished field lends itself to apathy and worse. The first year of the new director's role will be to get a sense of the hierarchy of sports at Georgetown, and where football fits into the firmament. A student body that slips from apathy to disinterest is bad for any sport. With spiraling costs and conference realignments forming a veritable scylla-and-charybdis for athletic departments over the next decade, increased support for any support outside basketball cannot be taken for granted.

A new voice in the athletic department offers a new opportunity for the football program to define itself and to assert its place in the fabric of campus and community life. Much of the last decade of GU football has been patterned on the sales pitch Bob Benson made to join the Patriot League in 2000, but it's now 2010 and if Georgetown wants to be something fundamentally better than what it is now in the next five or ten years, it needs vision, direction and support. The coaches will do their part, but it may be time for a largely silent group of alumni and donors to come to the forefront.

Since 1964, there are 125 living alumni who have served as a captain or co-captain for the football team. Doctors, attorneys, executives, a few coaches-- all sorts of men whose leadership skills on the field prepared them for leadership experiences off the field. As the new athletic director reviews and reshapes the department to which he has been entrusted, this is the group of volunteer leaders that need to be a visible, vocal, and volunteer-minded consituency that can show Reed and others that football is an asset on this campus, and as Georgetown considers growing the program, that it is an investment worth making, not merely a risk worth taking.

Some of these captains have been important volunteers and contributors in recent years, particularly among the club football era teams. Others, sadly, seem to have disappeared off the media guide. When DeGioia, Porterfield, Reed, et al. review the issues on the near-term plate for Georgetown football (from building the MSF to reacting to Patriot League scholarships), there needs to be a core leadership group among alumni ready to make the calls, twist the elbows, and fight for the program they helped build. These leaders of the past are a source of leadership for tomorrow.

And guess what? Tomorrow's here.

Let's move forward on reviving these ties among the football community. There are stories across the football landscape of key alumni and former captains coming through when a sluggish or faltering program most needed it; conversely, the I-AA graveyard is littered with alumni that could never quite get its act together when opportunity called and wondered what might have been. Let's welcome these captains back into the fold and get them back on the front lines to build Georgetown football for the next decade.